‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 3: Illumine It or Lose It

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo.

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo. HBO

Vinnie: I really want to discuss the opening scene of this week’s episode, which may just have transformed The Young Pope from something I enjoy on some absurd, ironic, kangaroo-pouch level into a genuinely magnetic, whoa-boy of a drama that’s operating on a higher plane than most shows. Lenny, sitting with another cardinal and wearing a flawless white Papal sweatsuit, launches into a description of the prayer he recited the day he was elected Pope over Cardinals Spencer and Dussolier, so villain-esque it’s a damn shame Jude Law has no mustache to twirl, that slowly grows more manic and, dare I say, sexually aroused as he goes. Here it is, in full:

“Lord, I don’t care with what means, licit or illicit. They’re all fine. I don’t care about the Holy Spirit, whether he illumines me or not. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about your opinions, if I’m up for the task or if I’m not an outsider, a longshot. I don’t care if you think I’m weak or a scoundrel. I don’t care about loving my neighbor as myself. I will never love my neighbor as myself. I only care about one thing, Lord, that I, not the others, can be useful to you.”

Now, despite the fact I had to constantly pause to see if illumine is actually a word, this was great stuff. Jude Law is next-level intense, and I love the way the camera slowly pans in on just Lenny, as if the audience is God himself realizing “Oh boy, I really fucked up with this one.” It just builds and builds, until Lenny yells, “I believe only in myself. I am the Lord Omnipotent. Lenny, you have illumined yourself. Fuck!”

Drew: I also wrote down that entire speech and I, too, had to pause to see if illumine was a word. So now we know a little bit more about Lenny! He really is the Frank Underwood of Popes. Think about it: both The Young Pope and House of Cards posits that their anti-heroes’ version of #winning involves:

1) Screwing over everyone else to get to the top. (“Not them, God, me!” was Lenny’s mantra during the…election? I don’t know Catholic stuff!)

2) Once established in the upper echelon of power, both become so enraptured by their own sovereignty that they’re legit sociopaths.

3) The paradoxical thinking that you are both “chosen” for greatness by some higher designs while simultaneously keeping a cross-stitch near your bed with the Billy Zane quote: “I make my own luck.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKY7WA_PjF4

Vinnie: In my 12 years of Catholic school education (editor’s note: Seriously? I 100 percent thought you were Jewish!), I learned pretty soundly that the Pope shouldn’t declare himself omnipotent and then scream “fuck” like he needs a post-bang cigarette. That’s like, day one stuff. But what I really love is that immediately, in the next scene, we see Lenny on his knees begging God to forgive him for everything he just said. At this point, still, after three episodes, I never know when Lenny Belardo is being genuine. Does he believe what he says all the time, half the time, or never? When are his ramblings, his drastic movements, based on legitimate beliefs, and when is it just winking at the audience? You know what does NOT help? When the brand new opening credits depose the idea of subtly and actually have the Pope wink at the audience:

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Drew: While playing the show’s theme song–the first we’ve heard it in the show– “All Along the Watchtower.” Now see, that is a BOLD “fuck” right there! “All Along the Watchtower” was ALREADY the theme for Battlestar Galactica! Come on, papal people…pick another Dylan song for a Vinyl-esque cover if you must! I know, I know: after Westworld, it must feel like all the good music has been TV-coopted already. So I’ve made a quick list of other songs that share a similar ethos that could have been used instead:

  1. Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in my Pocket.” (Because she talks about smoking cigarettes, and that’s Lenny’s favorite thing to do.)
  2. Five For Fighting’s “It’s Not Easy To Be Me.” (The song where Superman is complaining about how hard it is to be Superman. NOT to be confused with 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite.”)
  3. Mountain Goat’s “Best Death Metal Band out of Denton.” (Ironical, yeah?)
  4. Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” (“Only shooting stars break the mo-old.”)
  5. Any other song by Bob Dylan. “Knockin on Heaven’s Door?” “The Times, They Are A-Changing?” “Gotta Serve Somebody?” “With God on Our Side?” Literally, any Dylan song would work here…with the possible exception of “Tangled Up in Blue.” (Since that song does not apply to this show, nor anything else.)

Vinnie: So if you’re super into the idea of Popes meeting in secret shadowy locations across Vatican City to discuss game theory or whatever, then Episode 3 of The Young Pope was literally your heaven. First, Voiello meets with Cardinal Spencer in what appears to be a barn but I’m pretty sure is just Spencer’s house. For some reason, Voiello is on the ground, and Spencer is prowling the rafters like he’s Batman. Whatever; doesn’t matter. What’s important is that Spencer thought Voiello had his back in Pope Vote 2017, but Lenny was still elected over him.

Drew: Ha, what’s weird is that this isn’t Spencer’s house; it’s just where he is being put up during the homily. (Remember, all the Cardinals have to attend?) So Spencer is just staying in some rustic barn, with apparently no one watching over him despite his recent suicide attempt, stewing in his own vehement old-man juices. Just classic Cromwell! I was holding out hope that the end of this scene would resolve with Spencer patting Voiello on the head with a “that’ll do, pig.”

Vinnie: Voiello, who I’m growing increasingly sure has Voldemort’s soul growing out of his face like that guy in the first Harry Potter book (editor’s note: stop fronting like you don’t know the title of  The Sorcerer’s Stone, Vinnie), is playing ALL the sides. Turns out, The League of Extremely Old Priests had conspired to elect Lenny because they thought he’d be malleable, the “Pope of Compromise.” Lenny, because he is young and quite possibly insane, is enraged at the thought his ascendancy to Pope was a plot, and not a genuine act of God and/or voter fraud. He threatens to have Voiello deposed, a practice I’m pretty sure was only employed by Popes in the 1600s to take all the sheep away from kings. That needs fact-checking. (Don’t fact-check that.)

Drew: Wait, back up! We have to talk about the part where Lenny recants his previous “I give zero fucks, God!” confession from earlier! Praying in his room, Lenny asks God’s forgiveness for “deceiving Don Tommaso,” because, in reality, he SUPER DOES believe in the Lord? I guess? And the Holy Spirit? So…he really does think he was appointed by God and holds no ill-will towards Spencer or Voiello. (Who, come on Vinnie, is WAY more akin to a Peter Pettigrew-like villain than a Professor Quirrell.) So Lenny believes in divine intervention, while everyone else in this show seems pretty split about it. Like when Voiello suggests to Spencer that he actually played no part in having Lenny elected, and maybe the current pope was the result of the Holy Ghost’s deep exhale in lotus pose, Spencer straight up spits at him “You are out of your goddamn mind.”

For a bunch of religious folks, nobody at the Vatican seems to put much faith in the whole “Because God said so, that’s why!” defense.

Vinnie: It’s also revealed that Voiello has been straight Game of Thrones-ing his way through Vatican City for years, weaseling his way into other Cardinals’ dirtiest secrets and using them as blackmail to hold his position. His next target: Monsignor Gutierrez, who has, in addition to an alarmingly large collection of stuffed animals, a pretty substantial drinking problem. Unfortunately, Gutierrez’s primary function in the Vatican is having adorably quaint discussions with the Pope about old girlfriends and juggling…until Lenny goes ahead and confides in Gutierrez that sometimes he wants to give this whole Pope thing up and let Voiello handle things.

Drew: Yeah, I didn’t buy that as a legitimate form of blackmail. It’s pretty clear that Lenny gives ZERO SHITS about propriety, and if Voiello came to him tattling about Gutierrez’s drinking, who do you think the new Pope would side with? You know, between the mild-mannered, humble, alcoholic or the ass-kissing, back-stabbing, sentient mole attached to the meat puppet formerly known as Voiello?? 

And why can’t Gutierrez be an alcoholic, anyway? Dude spends all his time in a museum. He’s not even a Cardinal! “Monsignor” Gutierrez is the Master of Ceremonies for Vatican City, aka the Holy See. He’s basically a museum curator. And what’s the point of being a Master of Ceremonies THING if you can’t drink on the job?

On an unrelated note: How adorbs was that juggling??! That was such a throwback to young Jude Law, like him dancing as Gigolo Joe in your favorite movie of all time, A.I., or singing “Tu Vuo’ Fa l’Americano” in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now that I think about it? “Tu Vuo’ Fa l’Americano” would have also made a dope-ass title sequence song. Like if you just inserted the video sequence from Just Dance 4 and made it the opening of The Young Pope, that would have tracked for me.

Shit, I just thought of another good one: why not open the credits with a DAFT PUNK hit? Aren’t they the most important electronic music group of the last twenty years or something?

Vinnie: Question: Which scene this week was more peak Young Pope? Was it when Lenny straight up sent a guy to live in Freezing Asshole, Alaska for basically no reason? Or was it when he sent Sister Mary to deliver a prepared statement on the fact that all of Christianity and the press are terrified about the new Pope, and that statement was basically a trombone noise combined with this GIF?

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Drew: Oh god, it had to be that press conference for me. That was Curb Your Enthusiasm-level uncomfortable. Like, I get it: Lenny is shaking things up at the Vatican! But this guy is so all over the place–punishing his allies and enemies alike for the sin of trying to keep every Catholic in the world from lapsing en masse–that I was surprised Sister Mary didn’t just take the mic and deliver a Kanye-level rant against her prodigal pretend-son.

For instance, if you take the following paragraph and replace “Q-Tip” with “Lenny from Queens,” “musicians” with “Catholic priests” and “racism” for “sexism?” You would have my dream cut scene from this week’s Sister Mary speech:

Q-Tip, I love you, bro. Don’t tell me how to be me, though. I love you. The Tribe album is dope. I love you. Don’t tell me how to be me, though. I’ve been me. I am me. There’s a Richard Pryor interview that you can watch about people coming into power and not changing everything and just becoming a part of the power. That’s happened with musicians because they’re scared. I’m not scared. I’m here to change things. I am here to change things. And things won’t change until people admit their own falsehoods. I got the visions, bro. That’s what I’ve been blessed with. My vision. I’m not always going to say things the perfect way, the right way. But I’m going to say how I feel. Right now, press get ready to write your passive-aggressive, LeBron James, racist comments. Season 4, racist comments. Get ready to have a field day, press. Get ready, get ready. Because the show’s over. [Drops mic]

Voila! Way better speech!

Vinnie: For me, it has to be that statement too, which I will be submitting this year, and every year, as my official Observer performance review: “I wish to inform you of my total indifference to your doubts and criticisms, in light of which I deem it necessary to reiterate my infallibility, in contrast to your human fallibility.”

Drew: Right, and that would totally get you a pass…if you knew how to juggle. Or could make lightning happen when you were mad. Or even once name-dropped Banksy in casual conversation. But you didn’t, so…I guess you’re fired? You’re probably fired, based on your future official performance review. Thanks for the heads-up.

If anyone would like to apply for Vinnie’s job, please email me at 112263bleachboy@observer.com with your resume and a head shot.

Vinnie: What do we make of Esther, who in addition to being pretty goddamn terrible at roller-blading, seems to be a tad obsessed with the Young Pope? She LOVED his terrifying first Homily, so much that she’s been standing in St. Peter’s Square nightly and staring at the Pope’s window. Also, what do we make of the fact that Lenny passed out into Esther’s arms, besides the fact this is what happens to a human body that runs solely on cigarettes and Cherry Coke Zero?

Drew: Well, I think we make of it that Lenny from Queens has a little crush on our Biblically-named girl, Esther. Who, TBH, already has one too many dudes in her life (and like eight too few babies). (She can’t get pregnant.) Esther is married to Peter, the Pontifical Swiss Guard, but is in love with/having a sexy affair with Domen, the Pope’s aptly-named majordomo. Esther reminds Lenny of that girl he juggled fruit for that one time, and her earnestness goes a long way to earning her Pope Points in a Vatican City filled with viper snakes.

As to why he fainted in her arms (or pretended to faint, or whatever the fuck)? The only answer: because it made for a really great shot.

Vinnie: I was half-kidding before when I said I really wanted to talk about the opening scene because I’ve actually just been biding my time until I could bring up the reappearance of the kangaroo. Lenny is strolling the Vatican Gardens when he comes across his Australian pet, whom I’ve decided is named Cardinal Pouches, and proceeds to have a stare-off with the animal. It’s fantastic:

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Drew: Cardinal Pouches??? Cardinal Pouches?? Omg, Vinnie, that is delightful and a PERFECT NAME. You are rehired! (Apologies to all the other applicants.)

Vinnie: And then the kangaroo disappears. Was it ever real? Is it a living, breathing kangaroo or more like a kangaroo of the mind? A symbolic kangaroo, representing the conservative Lenny Belardo’s more primal, animalistic, hop-prone instincts? I think the answer is pretty clearly yes. Definitively, 100 percent yes, don’t @ me.

Drew: Ugh, I felt differently about the disappearance. Like, did The Young Pope bring Damon Lindelof to consult on this show, like how he “inspired” The Good Place? (Which is still bugging me, because it means Mike Schur asked himself at one point “Hmmm, who writes the BEST storylines involving the afterlife? Oh yeah, the man who made that final season of Lost that everyone found completely satisfying!!”)

No, but the symbolism of this hallucination or whatever is totally muddled. The ‘roo is real: about six other people were in the room when it arrived and can verify Lenny let it loose in the garden. So Cardinal Pouch is real, but might also have superpowers? Or maybe just IS a metaphor? This doesn’t add up to anything other than “Paolo Sorrentino watched the first season of The Leftovers at some point.”


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The whole “wise animal familiar” trope is so overplayed, but I will make an exception for my boo, Cardinal Pouches. Though Vinnie…if it’s a male kangaroo (like a Cardinal), then it wouldn’t have a pouch (ladies’ only!)

But hey: let’s not overthink any of this. If I wanted over-analyze a genre mashup of hyper-realism and surreal iconography, I would have turned on the news and watched the inauguration. Instead, I stayed home from work on Friday, binge-watched all of The Office (U.S.) and didn’t remember we had a new president until like….3 pm?

Drew, you have illumined yourself! Fuck!

‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 3: Illumine It or Lose It